HC Deb 24 March 1947 vol 435 cc1000-5

11.14 p.m.

Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)

I too wish to refer to Anglo-American relations, but on quite a different matter, which has nothing to do with trade. I want to put briefly the case for opening negotiations with the United States for a joint history of British-American co-operation during the war. When the Prime Minister went to see Mr. Truman about 16 months ago, I wrote to him to suggest that he should take the opportunity to broach this proposal in America, but he was unable to do so then. I hope the Home Secretary, who, I understand, has been asked by the Prime Minister to reply this evening, will be able to say the matter will be reconsidered, either now or later.

British-American co-operation in the war was unique in history. As Lord Halifax said in his farewll speech at Washington, never before had two countries fought a war with so great a unity of military, industrial, and political effort. Two nations with sharply differing temperaments and outlook performed, in partnership, a miracle. For this unity of purpose and achievement the main inspiration came from the then Prime Minister and the late President of the United States. As Mr. Roosevelt said, the Prime Minister and he understood one another. Concurrently with their discussions on grand strategy there were conferences of the staffs to settle operational and supply problems. The Allied Chiefs of Staff Committee in permanent Session disposed of all allied resources. They used British and American troops, aircraft, ships and munitions as though they were the resources of a single nation. They knew and trusted one another. The same harmony reigned at General Eisenhower's headquarters, where the American and British staffs worked together like a band of brothers. Of course, there were differences, especially about the invasion of Europe, but they were always settled, largely through the personality of General Eisenhower himself. The wonderful spirit of union extended to the front line. In every theatre of war the forces of Britain and America fought shoulder to shoulder. Never before had the fighting men of two independent countries been so closely united. In the Battle of the Atlantic, in the bombardment of Germany, in the invasion of North Africa, in the struggle for Italy, and in the last tremendous campaign in Western Europe, the two nations fought as one, and millions of the men and women of each nation learned to understand and respect one another.

This astonishing concord of purpose and action was all the more remarkable in view of the serious obstacles to concord. There were the geographical difficulties presented by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. There were some inherent antipathies, both national and personal. There was a conflict of strategic interests, especially in the Far East. There were widely differing views about tactics and training. There were the many problems caused by the presence in this country of millions of American soldiers and airmen at a time of great pressure on our resources. All these difficulties and differences were resolved.

In the realm of supply, collaboration was just as close as the field of battle. American output was indispensable to us, but British factories and scientists were not less valuable to America. Lend-Lease was balanced by Lend—Lease in reverse, and Mr. Stettinius' book on that subject is in some respects a model of the larger history which, I suggest, ought to be written. American cargo ships, turned out at the rate of 500 a year, were a God-send to Britain, but our troop-carriers the "Queen Mary" and the "Queen Elizabeth" were not less valuable to America. British-American co-operation in producing the atomic bomb is well-known, and many other secrets were shared. By combining our knowledge of radar we achieved complete air supremacy over Germany, both in attack and defence.

I submit that all this combination and integration of war effort deserves and demands an authoritative history, an agreed history, in which the historians of the two nations would unite just as their statesmen and military staffs united. It seems to me that the need for such a history has been immensely strengthened during the last few months by the flood of books by war correspondents which purport to give inside information about British-American relations, but which, if they go uncorrected, may seriously impair Anglo-American unity in the future. The war correspondent sees and hears a great deal, but there is a great deal he does not see and hear, and a good deal that he hears is not true. Some of these accounts though best sellers—succès de scandale—are unbalanced and full of conclusions based on gossip or guesses, or of half-truths. I submit that it is very necessary that this spate of subjective judgments should be corrected by an authoritative British-American history, written by people who have full access to official documents. I understand that General Eisenhower's staff did include British and American historians who prepared joint reports of operations. These reports are in existence and would form very useful material for the history I propose. A complete history would, of course, take a long time to write, and it would fill many volumes, but abridged popular editions might have a wide sale, and one might even hope that school history books in each country would be based on the official histories.

When the Freedom of the City of Westminster was conferred on my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) last year he expressed the hope that the grand story of British-American co-operation would make our two peoples understand each other and rely on each other in future. We all share that hope. I submit that this great purpose would be aided if the grand story were written down.

11.23 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)

In 1941, the then Prime Minister appointed an inter-Departmental committee to control the compilation and circulation of the official histories of the war that was then raging. This was a committee of senior officials representing the Departments, both Service and civil, primarily concerned with the official war histories. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) appointed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) as chairman of that committee, and when the Labour Government was formed in 1945 my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister appointed me to succeed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden as chairman of that committee. It is in that capacity that I answer the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) this evening. The early start that was made in collecting material for those histories has enabled us to make substantial progress already over considerable parts of the field that will eventually have to be covered. It is impossible to consider any of these histories without finding oneself at once involved in the question that the hon. Member for Twickenham has raised this evening.

From the very first days of the war, in fact, although America was not then actually fighting, we were receiving assistanc ewith regard to raw materials which was very valuable indeed, and nothing which I can say would be too high in praise of the efforts made by the then President of the United States to ensure, especially after the fall of France, that the Armies of Britain should be sustained in the conflict. I hope, therefore, that the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Twickenham that there should be, at some stage, a joint history of this remarkable co-operation and collaboration may be carried into effect. But collaboration in writing a history of this sort is rather more difficult than fighting an enemy. It is, for one thing, so difficult to apportion the exact praise for success, and the exact blame for disappointments. The hon. Member has himself alluded by implications to certain books which have already appeared, and from which one would gather that all the success is attributable to one partner, and all the failure to another. That may be true, but that criticism does not apply, in my mind, to two books recently published in England, one by Field-Marshal Viscount Montgomery, and the other by his Chief of Staff. Both of these have been written as objectively as possible—as objectively as actual participants in a campaign could write of the vicissitudes which invariably obtain for gigantic military operations by the troops of more than one nation. I hope that some joint book may be published without undue delay. The exact time when this should be done is a matter that must become one for joint arrangements between the two countries whose achievements it is proposed to recall and record.

Mr. W. R. Williams (Heston and Isleworth)


Mr. Ede

All right, give me an opportunity.

Mr. Williams

I was going to ask if the right hon. Gentleman was going to answer this other question.

Mr. Ede

I did not propose to raise this matter on the Consolidated Fund Bill. It is a reflection on someone else if it is thought inappropriate to raise it in this manner.

Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)

Could I ask, Mr. Speaker, exactly why is the Adjournment Motion being taken in the middle of the Consolidated Fund Bill? The subject now being dealt with is the subject at the Adjournment tonight. Exactly why is this particular subject, which has not been voted in Supply, considered to be in Order at this stage?

Mr. Speaker

I suppose some public funds have been involved. I was not here, but it may be that the Minister's salary is involved and therefore it is in Order.

Mr. Ede

Mr. Speaker, I hope that I am not going to lose that as a result of this discussion. There may be good grounds for reducing it, but in this matter I have done nothing which I think is to be considered detrimental. But to return to the point which I was making, I would say that undoubtedly all the history we have to write will have to include statements as to the relationships which existed between ourselves and all the other countries involved. I have been asked to deal with one particular aspect of the subject, and that is all I intend to do tonight. When the official histories are written, they will disclose, with regard to each of our Allies, what valuable help we both received and gave to the common cause. I am quite certain that the history of British arms in the war cannot be told without recording the part played jointly by ourselves and the Forces of the United States. I am certain that no one recognises this more than the distinguished Commander of the United States Forces, who became the Supreme Commander in the European theatre of war. It may be argued that these things should speak for themselves. My own view is that it is highly desirable then should be published, not merely some weighty, official tome, giving in great detail all these negotiations, but that at an appropriate stage something more colloquial, with the joint approval of both Governments, shall be available, not merely for the people of this country and America, but for the people of the world, as an agreed record of this joint effort.

I cannot promise that this shall be done at any time in the very immediate future. The professional historians who are available for this work, are already engaged on the task of the official histories. I believe that the same thing is true in the United States, and all the material that would be required to give any official and accurate account is also in the hands of those historians. It would lead to considerable delay in the publication of the official histories if this material were taken away and handed over to other people. I thank the hon. Member for Twickenham for raising this subject tonight, and I hope he will feel that the Government are sympathetic towards the idea he has in mind. As soon as opportunity occurs, we shall be very pleased to co-operate with any distinguished historian whom the American Government may feel able to appoint to do this work, or ask to do this work, in an endeavour to see that this joint effort shall be suitably recorded, so that not only our generation, but succeeding generations shall understand the magnitude of this great achievement in diplomacy, in the furnishing of munitions and in the successful conduct of operations by sea, land and air